REVIEW: Midsommar (Spoiler Free)

And there I was just waiting for Nic Cage to show up in a bear suit…

After suffering through a family tragedy, the unstable Dani joins her partner and his friends on a retreat to Sweden to take part in a rural hometown’s idyllic but also, simultaneously, devilish midsummer festival.

From the mind of Ari Aster, the director of last year’s hotly debated dramatic horror debut, HereditaryMidsommar enters the frame as one of the most fascinating cinematic outputs of 2019. Cutting straight to the chase, what I found in this bright, vibrant foray into occult horror was ingenious uniqueness sandwiched with recognisable traits. I found absolutely gorgeous frames of film depicting overly ghastly and vomit-inducing imagery. I found something extremely entertaining whilst also being uncomfortably stretched out. I found a film that I genuinely loved. Midsommar is one of my favourite films of the year.

I’ll be the first to say, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Hereditary upon release. It is certainly a film I respect and appreciate the artistry behind, but, in retrospect, Hereditary just wasn’t entirely my cup of tea. I guess a lot of it is due to the fact I had no idea what I was getting myself into with an Ari Aster film; a horror infused with drama where the dramatic elements begun to work in consuming the majority of the film’s traditional horror. Trust me, I liked the film, but I didn’t love it.

Now though, being fully aware of what to expect seeing an Aster film, I guess I was more “switched on” when it came to viewing Midsommar. Knowing and anticipating the tone Aster trademarked with Hereditary, I would say I was certainly more prepared with what Midsommar was going to be. And in my preparation, which bled into my screening of the film, I was happy to say I left the cinema for Midsommar with a massive grin. I liked Midsommar more than I did Hereditary and would, in ways, consider it a better film than the former.

midsommar
(A24 2019)

Firstly, Midsommar was a shockingly vile film. At points, it felt like Aster had been taking notes directly from Lars Von Trier in how to jack up both the depiction of misery and gore. The way the film was shot with its uniquely bright colours and symmetrical frames, it was as if Midsommar, at points, meaningfully was made to replicate the idyllic style of a Wes Anderson film… if only a Wes Anderson film spiralled into disturbing insanity. The shear juxtaposition of the film’s visual appeal along with its shot compositions and poetic visualisation of the Swedish countryside, placed against the inner darkness and turmoil of character psychology and brutal rituals, made for a completely refreshing take on the translation of horror to screen. Pawel Pogorzelski deserves 2019’s Best Cinematography Oscar for the work he did on Midsommar as, yeesh, the frames, the camera movements and the unique assortment of shots really worked to make this film all the more powerful.

Along with some terrific sound editing and mixing, the score simultaneously worked to Midsommar‘s greatest effects in an obvious avoiding of the typical jump scares and traditional horror clichés. That’s not to say Midsommar was completely absent of all horror tropes though as the script did take some predictable paths to reach an ending only a fool could have not seen coming. Although, the narrative was not exactly the most original, Midsommar made up for it in its dissection of its characters, specifically Dani.

In a bleak exploration of grief and misery, Midsommar knew how to explore its themes effectively and personally. Citing the human impulse to turn to a necessary source of love and nourishment when times get tough, Midsommar treated its tale of cults and rituals as a form of escapism for Dani – a source of twisted support. People fall back on to belief systems when the world crumbles beneath them and the way Midsommar depicted Dani’s surrendering to a willing family – as dark as they were – for a sense of support, really sold both the humanity and inhumanity aspects of Midsommar. It was in this contrast between the two (humanity and inhumanity) where much of the horror originated in the film.

Midsommar was tense from start to finish. Whereas Hereditary was more sombre, Midsommar managed to keep a forward moving momentum from start to finish; convincing the audience entirely that something crazy was going to happen at any point. And a lot of the praise for the pacing and tense behaviour of the film can certainly be directed towards Aster, but I have to note how amazing at this stage Florence Pugh was at keeping Midsommar so remarkably alive.

I knew Pugh was special the first time I saw her earlier this year in Fighting With My Family… but going from a performance as good as that one to a Toni Collette from Hereditary-level of brilliance in Midsommar was outstanding. Pugh is truly one of cinema’s best upcoming talents and with a performance as insane as this one, I believe Pugh is capable of literally any role she lands in the future… and trust me, with her talent, she’ll be landing quite a few in the near future.

The rest of the cast were also pretty good, despite Jack Reynor having some moments here and there where his performance came off as a little cheesy. But all in all though, Midsommar was a high achiever in all its fields, including, surprisingly, humour. Yes, I was shocked too, but Midsommar managed to really excel in its comedy. No jokes fell flat as instead the film tried and succeeded with an array of gags that worked in making the film feel more real.

Speaking on gags, I wasn’t going to bring this up being as though I feel a lot of people already have, but Midsommar above all else reminded me deeply of a little horror film people may know as The Wicker Man… and I mean both versions of The Wicker Man. With the skill of the 1973 original, but also the continuous parody of the 2006 remake, Midsommar felt much like an ode to said horror classics (well, when I say classics…) in a big way. Specifically calling upon the magic of Nic Cage’s memorable 2006 version of The Wicker Man, you’ll know it when you see it, but Midsommar contained an array of visual illusions to said movie that really made my day. I mean, come on, when you’re willing to reference a Nic Cage film in your own film, of course I will automatically become a fan.

To wrap this all up though in a tidy little package, to quote Kanye West (in a way, I guess), this film was a beautiful, dark, twisted fantasy. Easily one of my favourites of the year so far, I would highly recommend Midsommar if you’re looking for something a little different in the way of horror and, also, if you have an iron stomach.

Midsommar is, in fact… LOST ART

 

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